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jeanette redmond's child
by julie savage parker

My first introduction to Ms. Glenis Redmond—Jeanette Redmond's child—was through Jeanette Redmond's mama (and Glenis' grandmama) Katie Latimore, now 104 years old.

Local filmmaker Debra Roberts first met 'Great Katie' (so nicknamed by Glenis' twin daughters Amber and Celeste) when she filmed Mama's Magic [a video collection of some of Glenis work] several years ago. At the end of an afternoon of filming, Debra sat with Katie on her couch and they silently gazed and smiled at each other for a long time. Debra said afterwards "I felt like I had fallen into a galaxy of stars through Katie’s eyes. It is a rare thing to be in the presence of someone whose life has spanned over a hundred years, especially the life of an African American woman in the South."

This is a family of strong women, from Great Katie at almost 104 through Jeanette and Glenis down to Amber and Celeste at 14. This strength— this backbone—is clearly visible in Glenis' work. Her lineage and in the broader sense her heritage are integral to her work.

It was only about twelve years ago that Glenis really stepped out as a poet.
"I was a poet, probably from the womb, but I had forgotten about the poetry because I was so busy trying to be a good daughter, a good wife, a good everything else,

I forgot about myself. I put poetry on the back burner. It wasn't until I was twenty-eight when I had my mid-life crisis—a little early! I was married, my daughters were two years old—two year old twins.

I was counseling, working nine to five, and draggin' ass home. Come to find out I was really ill...I had a lot of chronic illnesses but I didn't know it. I went to my boss and she was actually the one who suggested I take some time off, and I burst into tears, in public, which I wasn't used to doing at the time—I was a little straight-laced person. Well I took that time off, medical leave. Never...went...back.

But I did go to a conference called Healthy Connections for counselors, people working in that field. I had already signed up so I decided to go anyway, and that is when a door opened. The door had opened with the illness, but the door really widened when I was at Malaprop's. They happened to be down in Greenville with their books. I had already picked up about six books (I am a bookaholic) and told my friend "Don't let me buy another book", but this red book kept calling me. Later, my friend said to me "You know that book you picked up? There is a woman downtown teaching a workshop on that book." The book was The Artist's Way.

I immediately picked up the phone, called the teacher, and every Saturday for the next 12 weeks I met with a group of 21 people—all facets of the community: downtown Greenville South Carolina, lawyers, doctors, teachers...artists, wannabes. I thought I was going back to be a visual artist because I had all these images in my head—vivid, colorful. But we started writing in The Artist's Way, and we'd read, we'd check in every Saturday. When I'd read, people would say "You're a writer!" and I was like "Really??" So I started doing my morning pages and the poetry just started flowing. And that's really the very very beginning.

You know, I look back at that time, every one of us that took that workshop, something phenomenal happened to our loves. I'm not saying phenomenal in the sense that money rained from the skies, but the world opened up. It provided a whole new community for me, a community of artists. For me, the nine-to-five world was killing me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And so that is when I shifted."

JP: And the Tribe of Twenty Women workshop you are doing this month, are you seeing worlds opening up for the women attending?

"The Tribe of Twenty really means coming back and embracing that, giving women that opportunity. (The first few of these workshops are open only to women.) It helps people delve into what their thing is. So that is what that was birthed from—The Artist's Way that blew my world wide open—and that's what I want to happen for other women. I see women who are somewhat shut down or disconnected from their center, and it is in that workshop I gave myself to be permission to be myself. The workshop is not The Artist's Way. There are similarities, but mine focuses a bit more on the spirituality aspect of it and on storytelling...on telling your own story, creating your own story. It will start as two days, 10-20 women. Eventually I'd like to see it a week long workshop with other artists helping me teach it.

I speak metaphorically as a writer. I paint for myself...it is more like my journaling. There is a release in that, and there is that component in the workshop. Turning inward to get our information. Everything you need you already have....but spending time in meditation, I think you switch to another part of your brain. Moving toward a week long you can really travel that terrain.

For me, 1993 was the year everything fell through the roof, fell out. For a year there I had no identification...it was a year-long struggle for me. It was the best struggle because I started to claim myself. Is it okay to just be me? Around '94 I was with the same group I did Artist's Way with, and we would go out and do functions together. We were at I think an Alvin Ailey performance, during intermission I said to a group of friends "I think I am going to do a reading." and then I went to the bathroom, and when I got back, everything was planned: the date, everything. There was no backing out!


I did my first reading at The Village Cafe surrounded by my friends and family...it was a loving, supportive experience.
I decided to do five readings a month for year....I don't care where: girls scouts, clubs, wherever. I immersed myself in the world of poetry. I was really purposeful about it. I came up here to do a poetry slam at the Green Door on Carolina Lane. I was this little suburbanite who didn't travel at night...I gathered all my courage, left my husband, kissed the kids, went out in the night and drove to Asheville.

It was the scariest place to me. Bob Falls was in the audience, and he asked me did I want to go on the road and do poetry with Poetry Alive! and I did...for eight weeks. It was lovely working with Poetry Alive!...you get to learn other people's poems, which I loved, too, but I was in the business of figuring out my authentic voice at the time, so I was ready to do my own thing. When I got off the road, I said, well, I want to do this for myself, with my voice."

Glenis spoke of the years she participated in poetry slams. "We are on our 20th year with Poetry Slams...slamming has brought it back into the arena of the common day folk, and that is what I am interested in. I use a common language—I use my own language—to connect, to bridge with other folk. I have some slam friends who are on Broadway with slam poetry, I have another group of friends doing Def Poetry on HBO. There are a few of us—independent folks—who have agents and travel around. This will be my 11th year, full time.

I got an agent four years ago. Before then I was making a living, but I was stretching it very thin. But I have a booking agent...John and Peggy Loyd. When the Ku Klux Klan marched in town about five years ago there was a Unity rally at the Reed Center... people from all backgrounds. Instead of going to protest, we had our own rally and it was there I did a poem called If I Ain't African and John and Peggy happened to be sitting in the audience and John said "Oh this is performance poetry. Well I can book that."

I am so excited about the future of poetry now because it is going into so many different venues...it is going on the stage, it is taking its place.


mama's magic

 

My Mama is Magic!
Always was and always will be.
There is one phrase that constantly bubbled
from the lips of her five children
"My Momma can do it.
"We thought my mama knew everything.
Believed she did, as if she were born full grown
from the Encyclopedia of Britannica.
I could tell you stories
of how she transformed
a run down paint peeled shack
into a home.
How she heated us with tin tub baths
from a kettle on the stove.
Poured it over in there like an elixir.
My mama is protection
like those quilts her mother used to make.
She tucked us in with cut out history all around us.
We found we could walk anywhere in this world and not feel alone.
My mama never whispered the shame of poverty in our ears.
She taught us to dance to our own shadows.
"Pay no attention to those grand parties on the other side of the tracks.
Make your own music," she'd say
as she walked
as she cleaned
the sagging floorboards of that place.
"You'll get there."
"You'll get there.
"Her broom seemed to say with every wisp.
We were my mama's favorite recipe.
She whipped us up in a big brown bowl
supported by her big brown arms.
We were homemade children.
Stitched together with homemade love.
We didn't get everything we ever wanted
but we lacked for nothing.
We looked at the stars in my mama's eyes
they told us we owned the world.
We walked like kings and queens
even on midnight trips to the outhouse.
We were under her spell.
My mama didn't study at no Harvard or Yale.
The things she knew
you couldn't learn in no book!
Like...
How to make your life sing like sweet potato pie sweetness
out of an open window
How to make anybody feel at home.
How at just the right moment be silent,
and with her eyes say, "Everything's gonna be aright, chile,
everything is gonna be alright."
How she tended to our sickness.
How she raised our spirits.
How she kept flowers living on our dilapidated porch
in the midst of chaos.
My mama raised children like it was her business in life.
Put us on her hip and kept moving.
Keeping that house Pine-Sol clean.
Yeah, my mama is magic. Always was and always will be.
Her magic?
How to stay steady and sure in this fast paced world.
Now when people look at me
with my head held high
my back erect
and look at me with that...."Who does she think she is?"
I keep walking
with assurance inside.
I'm Black Magic!
I'm Jeanette Redmond's child.

by glenis redmond


the appearance of nothing

It is odd how I have come to bein this fourth decade of my life
more mellow
like golden fruit.

The amount of my fullness
can surely be measured
by lessons learned
from a long line of wise women
who rescued me from that restless scarf of my teens.

I am not sure when I came to believe in myself
Trees
or the truths
of these wise women.
it seems like only yesterday
their words were lost on me
released like water
through a sieve.

I remember one day
as ordinary as any other
I sashayed like wind into my mother's kitchen
with the impatience of my youth.
Boldly declared
as I stared into that pot of water and uncooked rice,
"Ain't nothin' happening."
Chris, a family friend
who had placed the pot on the eye to boil,
stepped over.
Let these words roll like eggs from her tongue,
"There is something happening."
No lecture, no leer, no top of finger in my face
just words plump with meaning.

It took me fifteen years to squeeze the juice.
I now call these moments
still water moments
the place where it feels like nothing good
is ever going to happen again
like a seed lying dormant
looking dead to life
nothing good
gonna ever happen
again
no friendly voice on the phone

No letter in the box
acid rain
the drone of being alone.

Then, the seed sprouts
tender green leaves
up through rich brown dirt.

Up comes a flower, a prayer, a poem.

It is odd how I've come to believe
in the grace of God
through nothingness

rest

stillness

sleep.

It is odd how I've learned lessons
from a long line of wise women
who barely whispered a word.

It is odd I've come to believe
in the appearance of nothing
the moment before water dances.

by glenis redmond

 

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